Seven Best Museums in Iceland

Seven Best Museums in Iceland

The ‘Land of Fire and Ice’ is a place where nature and culture intersect in fascinating ways. While the country’s natural wonders often steal the show, there are also some wonderful world-class museums that offer visitors a glimpse into the country's rich history and culture. From Norse settlers to the Viking era, the best museums in Iceland showcase all the cultures that have shaped Iceland into what it is today.

  1. The National Museum
  2. Árbær Open Air Museum
  3. The Settlement Exhibition
  4. Whales of Iceland Exhibition
  5. Aurora Reykjavik
  6. Maritime Museum
  7. Viking World

The National Museum

Located in Reykjavik, the National Museum of Iceland tells the tale of the country's fascinating history – even the building itself is a piece of history. If you have time for only one museum during your trip, this is the place; the National Museum covers everything from the settlement of Iceland in the ninth century through to its struggle for independence and role in World War II and contains artefacts from as far back as the Viking age. Try on traditional Icelandic garments, discover drinking horns Vikings once chugged their mead from and explore a replica Viking ship. 


Árbær Open Air Museum

One way to discover the old-time architecture and way of life in a long-ago Reykjavík is by visiting the Árbær Open Air Museum. This open-air collection features over 20 original houses and farm buildings that have been relocated from central Reykjavik to form a traditional town square and village from the country’s long-forgotten past. In keeping with the farm's heritage, employees and tour guides dress in traditional Icelandic attire to 'work the farm'. Offering a glimpse into the daily lives of Icelanders in the past, you can walk through the houses, from the kitchen to the bedrooms, and see how the families lived. Wander around the different farmhouses, workshops, shipping facilities and even a church-turned-sports hall. There's also a children’s room filled with classic toys that is sure to delight your youngsters (and make them appreciate their newest game console).


The Settlement Exhibition

For history buffs in the mood for some serious historical learning, head over to Reykjavik’s Settlement Exhibition. This modern museum tells the story of Iceland’s settlement through paintings, photographs, and interactive displays. The underground museum has a dark and mysterious ambience that's fitting, given the fact it was built around an archaeological dig. In 2001, construction workers renovating nearby buildings made a surprising discovery: the remains of ancient human habitation in Reykjavik. These turned out to be the oldest relics found within city limits—including a tenth-century Viking longhouse. Check out the ‘Settlement and Landscape’ exhibit which offers an interactive journey through Iceland's geology and natural history. Learn about how the first settlers interacted with the land and gain a fascinating insight into what it would have been like to live in this harsh environment.


Whales of Iceland Exhibition

Take a break from the history lessons - and the cold - while exploring the wonders of Iceland's marine life in ‘Whales of Iceland’. This interactive exhibit showcases life-sized replicas of all 23 species of whales and dolphins that can be found in the waters around Iceland - including a humpback whale you can walk under, to give you an idea of the sheer size of these majestic creatures. And with blue lighting and sound effects, it’s as if you’ve entered an underwater world yourself. Get up close and personal while watching the whales in their natural habitat through virtual reality goggles or board a virtual whale-watching tour and experience the spectacle of these giant creatures as they swim nearby.


Aurora Reykjavik

Hoping to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights dancing above the Reykjavik skyline? As mesmerising as that sounds, it's difficult to spot the elusive lights if you're not in the right place at the right time. The Aurora Reykjavik Museum quickly became one of the best museums in Iceland thanks to its stunning visual experience and helpful explanations about how the Northern Lights work. Learn about the types of auroras, the science behind them, and how solar activity affects the strength and frequency of the auroras. Catching the dancing act on camera is no easy feat, but Aurora Reykjavik has a few tips to help budding photographers find the best places to go, what to look out for and how to capture the aurora borealis dance across the sky in all its glory. And if all else fails (or you're visiting during the summer months when you’re unlikely to catch a glimpse of them) you can sit below a large, high-def projection time-lapse of the Northern Lights dancing in the Arctic sky.


Maritime Museum

Fishing has underpinned Iceland’s economy since the tenth century, and locals love to regale tourists with stories about their Cod Wars victory (a series of 20th-century confrontations between the UK and Iceland about fishing rights in the North Atlantic). Housed in the Old Harbour of Reykjavik, the museum is a treasure trove of artefacts that tell the story of this community and how fishing helped build modern Iceland. Discover how sailors lived offshore and what they faced during their time at sea, as well as how they struggled against foreign invaders. The museum provides a fascinating look at how an island nation became one of the most prosperous countries in Europe, all thanks to its abundant supply of cod.


Viking World

Ready to dive into the world of Vikings? Then head to Viking World. This interactive experience will take you through the history and culture of the Vikings, from their humble beginnings in Scandinavia to their rise as seafarers and traders during the Middle Ages. Perfect for families, you can learn about Norse mythology and legends while taking part in fun activities, such as trying your hand at ancient crafts and dressing up in traditional garb. The pride and joy here is the magnificent Viking ship: The Icelander - a replica of an old Viking ship that once sailed the seas. Ideally located just four miles away from the international airport, Viking World is the perfect place to explore before your flight home.